Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

VIEWPOINT: Protest and Prayer on the Day of Mourning

On Monday morning, I joined hands with fellow members of the Jewish community outside of Healy Hall to recite the mourner’s kaddish for those who were murdered in the Holocaust. It was Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Less than an hour later, I walked to the Leavey Conference Center to protest a man who was a proud member of Hungarian neo-Nazi group Vitézi Rend and a virulent Islamophobe. Sebastian Gorka, deputy assistant to President Donald Trump, was invited by the School of Foreign Service to speak on a panel on propaganda and “alternative facts” at the International Project on Cyber Engagement. I stood with fellow Jewish, Muslim and allied students in silent protest at Gorka’s panel.

The protest proved to be an incredible moment of solidarity between the Jewish and Muslim communities, affirming that our struggles to combat anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are linked. An example sat right in front of us: Gorka denied he was anti-Semitic while calling jihadis and Nazis “all the same.” He used a form of camouflaged anti-Semitism to spout Islamophobic propaganda.

Gorka is indeed well-versed in the topic on which he was speaking. As a former editor of Breitbart, he has created and disseminated his fair share of “alternative facts” and propaganda, such as a July 2014 article in which he accuses The New York Times and The Washington Post of “shilling for the jihadis.” According to journalists such as NPR national security correspondent David Welna, Gorka has also authored widely debunked “counterterrorism” research that is, in reality, Islamophobia halfheartedly disguised in academic language. Instead of contextualizing Gorka or using his presence on the panel to challenge his views, the coordinators of the conference presented him as an expert, effectively normalizing his racism and bigotry.

A quick Google search of Gorka immediately reveals the words “Nazi” and “Islamophobia.” It is evident that those who invited him to speak at Georgetown did not do their due diligence.

Moreover, when other students and I met with SFS Senior Associate Dean Anthony Arend (SFS ’80) the night before the event to present our concerns about Gorka, we were told that the university would not disinvite him as it wanted to present Georgetown as a haven of free speech where all ideas are questioned and critiqued.

In his statement emailed to the Georgetown student body April 26, SFS Dean Joel Hellman painted over Gorka’s affiliations with groups considered by the State Department to have Nazi ties, instead calling them “chauvinist groups.” Though Hellman admitted in an interview with The Hoya that he “would not have invited” Gorka due to his lack of expertise relevant to the conference, Hellman ended his written statement by reiterating the university’s commitment to free speech and implying that disinviting Gorka would amount to “censorship.”  Perhaps most importantly, Hellman has failed to acknowledge that this event happened on Yom Hashoah.

Although I am grateful for the support offered by Arend, Hellman and others, the university must carefully consider the platform it provides to its speakers and how these speakers affect students who are part of minority communities. There is a difference between hosting speakers who promote dialogue as part of free speech and those who misinform the public and manufacture “alternative facts.”

Furthermore, what administrators failed to recognize is that supporting this event and Gorka as a speaker created a real question of student safety and security. During the event, a student was shoved aside and stepped on by a Gorka supporter. Pictures of student protesters on Twitter have already been met with threats from internet trolls. When an Islamophobic neo-Nazi comes to campus, the university has effectively invited him into the students’ home.

Gorka’s appearance on Holocaust Remembrance Day must be a call to action for the university. In the age of Trump, inviting a White House official is not the same as it once was. Georgetown must establish new research and vetting protocols, including more thorough examinations of speakers’ backgrounds, to ensure that hateful individuals like Gorka are not given such a public platform.

In doing so, the university must create a student advisory panel to provide necessary perspectives. That a figure with ties to neo-Nazi groups was invited to speak on Yom Hashoah speaks to the lackluster representation of diverse student experiences and voices within the administration. This needs to change — quickly. It is not a matter of student “snowflakes” who cannot handle tough discussions. It is a matter of safety.

I am ashamed that my university put me in the position of choosing between mourning my family and bearing witness to the genocide of my people, and protesting an Islamophobic neo-Nazi. The administration needs to take responsibility for what happened and ensure that our communities will not have to suffer through a similar situation again.

Julia Friedmann is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. 

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